Despite its recent inception, there was a quaint sense of comfort that pervaded every detail of Oliver’s Cafe. At the corner of 31st and Canal Street, Oliver’s CafÃ© offers an intimate dining experience that serves high-class food, presenting dishes that combine intricate design and easy eating.
Set into a stand-alone duplex, Oliver’s occupies a cozy, shotgun house-like layout, incredibly long and narrow. One is transported into sepia-filtered quarters. The walls are painted a warm sienna and hung with pastoral landscapes. Candles cast soft romantic shadows against the walls, canary lights dangle from the ceiling, and quiet conversation flows amongst the guests. Oliver’s feels like the bar of a luxury hotel, tables filled with comfortable and at-home patrons relaxing and enjoying the evening.
Chef Oliver’s culinary experience spans almost three decades, mostly set in first-rate hotels and clubs. He’s cooked in the Waldorf Astoria in New York, the Hilton in New Orleans, as well as the Palmer House here in Chicago. Chef Oliver made the transition to cooking in private and elite clubs 16 years ago. With this culinary mastery under his belt, Chef Oliver is committed to providing a high-quality dining experience.
I began the meal with a sampling of three soups: a rich combination of butternut squash, sweet potato, and apple bisque, mushroom, and cream of corn. Each soup captured the essence of the main ingredient, the butternut offering a creamy highlight of autumn.
This introduction was followed by spicy marinated grilled jumbo shrimp atop white corn ragout with a dollop of avocado, polished off with a rich roasted piquil sauce. The shrimp, as some of my dining companions described, tasted like the sea. The creamy avocado and sweet ragout complemented the peppery and briny shrimp. Another menu item that caught my eye was the pan-seared sea scallops with a leek and port wine glaze.
Oliver’s entrÃ©es include a center-cut beef medallion on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, served with grilled mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. The meat melted in my mouth as the tangy sauce accentuated the core flavors of the beef. The fettuccine pasta tossed with a truffle cream pepper sauce delivered a new depth to classic pasta, a subtle but striking improvisation on traditional fettuccine. Another option is a tender pork-loin melded with chorizo and heirloom tomatoes. The pork-loin not only captured a Latin-American flavor with muted chorizo points, but was expertly prepared, tender and juicy with a spicy seared crust.
During our meal, Chef Oliver strolled out of the kitchen in his white chef’s jacket and customary hat making his rounds to each table. With a giant grin and a firm handshake, he let us know the genuine care he has for his guests and his enormous passion for cooking.
I ended the meal with a sweet panna cotta topped with fresh strawberries and blackberries. For a desert of cultural fusion, I sampled the cinnamon apple, pineapple, and raisin eggroll drizzled with caramel sauce and French vanilla ice cream. The panna cotta contained an incredibly soft and creamy filling that synced with the tart berries. The eggroll captured apple pie in a distinctly Asian form.
Oliver’s CafÃ© delivers on its promise of a comfortable and elegant dining atmosphere. The food is top notch and the prices are accessible. As an added incentive to return, Oliver’s changes the menu every two weeks, offering a chance to taste the breadth of Chef Oliver’s culinary repertoire. The bold American flavors are exquisitely crafted into a near around- and out-of-this-world experience, delivered in a form that is at once strange and familiar.
Oliver’s CafÃ©, 451 W. 31st St. Tuesday-Sunday 4:30pm-9:30pm.Â (312)791-1230.